PULLMAN, Wash. — Washington State University Museum of Art officials are changing policy and encouraging visitors to bring their cameras to the museum’s second exhibition for the fall semester.
The traveling exhibition from the Visual Studies Workshop, “From the Background to the Foreground: The Photo Backdrop and Cultural Expression,” opens Oct. 12 and features actual photographic backdrops from around the world.
A variety of hand-painted and quilted backdrops will be on display, including scenes of exotic locales such as the Taj Mahal and the Sierra Leone Statehouse, as well as a crescent moon prop, photographs, portraits, postcards, audio and video recordings, and interactive installations.
In a departure from normal museum protocol, visitors are encouraged to bring cameras, with flash if desired, to create their own “family portraits” using the vibrant backgrounds.
The exhibit opens at 7:30 p.m. with a lecture “Idealized Settings: Enticements to Travel,” by Paul Hirzel of the WSU School of Architecture. The talk is set for the Fine Arts Auditorium. A reception will follow in the Fine Arts lobby.
The exhibit examines the role this universal vehicle of expression plays in how people view themselves and their cultures.
According to James B. Wyman, exhibit curator, “…the project attempts to explore the relationships among the fields of art, photography, folklore, ethnography and vernacular art.” It brings together historical and recent work by artists and scholars from around the world, famous and unknown, to examine the use and interpretation of the human portrait. The use of backdrops enables the portrait subject to “occupy new, often inappropriate, ‘realities,'” as writer and activist Lucy Lippard wrote in an essay accompanying the exhibition. Choice of backdrops reflects the subject’s desire to experience a different cultural, historical or physical location.
In conjunction with the exhibition, a special presentation of the film “Conceiving Ada” is set for viewing at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 26 in the CUB Auditorium. Based on the life of Ada Byron King, mathematician and daughter of Lord Byron, the movie by artist Lynn Hershman Leeson is the first to use “virtual backdrops” as a significant component in its production. The film is open to the public without charge.
The exhibition ends Nov. 22. The museum is closed for Veterans Day, Nov. 11. All Museum of Art exhibitions and programs are open to the public without charge. The museum is open Monday through Friday, 10 a.m.-4 p.m.; Tuesday, 10 a.m.-10 p.m.; and Saturday and Sunday, 1-5 p.m., with special hours on home football game weekends. The Museum of Art is wheelchair accessible.
Funding for museum exhibitions and programs is provided by Washington State University and the Friends of the Museum of Art. Additional support for “From the Background to the Foreground” is provided by the Visual, Performing and Literary Arts Committee. A portion of the museum’s general operating funds for the fiscal year has been provided through a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

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